Scripture: Luke 10:38-42
This week we find ourselves looking at Mary and Martha when Jesus drops in for a visit one day. As Jesus sits in their home the two women take on two different roles.
Martha gets to work in the kitchen preparing a meal while Mary sits and listens to what Jesus has to say.
Which is more important?
Well, one could argue that hospitality is most important. In the time of Jesus, hospitality to visitors was an expectation, even to strangers. When someone came to the village, and if no one extended extravagant hospitality to the visitor, it would bring shame on the community. This meant feeding them, providing a place to sleep, a place to get clean, all of this was expected when visitors showed up at your door.
While we may not do this to strangers so much any more, it’s much the same for us today. When someone shows up on our doorstep, although they usually don’t show up unannounced we open our homes, provide a place for rest and most certainly we will feed them.
This was common not just of the Jews, but of the Greeks and even pagans as well. Martha is following a well established practice which has continued for thousands of years.
But what about Mary? Shouldn’t she be following these ancient practices as well? Shouldn’t she be, as the host of a guest, be working diligently to prepare a meal alongside her sister and a place of rest for Jesus and his friends?
By the common practice of the people, yes she should. It should have been automatic for her, just as it was for Martha. Yet what does she do? She sits down and does nothing, leaving Martha to do all the work.
Well that doesn’t seem fair at all does it? Here’s poor Martha, working away in the hot kitchen, making a meal for Jesus and who knows how many others that are travelling with him when he stops in, and she’s left alone to do it all.
Is Mary trying to bring shame on the household? Especially since this is Jesus! This isn’t some stranger dropping by! This is someone who is pretty popular right now! Imagine the reviews they would get if this didn’t turn out well!
Yet Mary just sits and listens.
Finally, Martha, frustrated with the lack of help, turns to Jesus and says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”
Everyone wants to get it right when Jesus is in town. Jesus knows the customs of the day. He knows the importance of being a good host. He can tell Mary to help her sister.
But Jesus does something unexpected, as he likes to do so often. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
This passage pivots on Jesus words when he says, “Mary has chosen the better part…”
This past week, we played hosts to hundreds of people on the Northside. We fed them. We talked with them. We made them feel comfortable. We were their friends.
We were very good Martha’s as we prepared a meal for 600 people.
This is important work of the church. We need to let people see that we are hospitable. We need to let them know we care about them, and we want them to feel comfortable in our building.
All that work. All the preparation paid off. Not only as a fundraiser, but also as an opportunity to engage with our community.
But what is it that drives us? We know hospitality is important. We know the value of making people feel welcome. But what drives us?
Is hospitality important? Of course it is. Jesus would not have been able to do most of the things he did if he did not have people providing for him as he travelled.
Yet what drove Mary to sit at his feet and listen?
There are opportunities to share, and there are opportunities to grow.
In this encounter with Jesus we see both at play. Jesus is a traveller. He needs people to be hospitable to him and his companions. He needs food. He needs rest. All the same things we need.
But Jesus, on his travels, also offers something.
Martha chose the traditional response. She chose to work and support their travelling guests, as was the custom of the day.
Mary made the other choice. She chose to receive what Jesus had to give.
We were Martha’s the other day, serving delicious meals to all who passed through our doors.
Who are we today?
I hope we are being Mary’s. I hope we are here so we can sit at the feet of Jesus and take in what he has to say to us. I hope we are here because we want to hear more from God and grow in our relationship with Him.
What we do here on Sunday mornings is important. It’s important in our spiritual journey, in our journey to become more Christ-like in our words and in our actions, it’s important that we take time to sit at the feet of Jesus and take in all he has to offer us. And we should do it whenever we have the chance, not just on Sundays.
Jesus tells us it’s important. He tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part, the better thing, the better option.
And what Jesus says next about making this choice should make us want the same thing.
He says, “it will not be taken away from her.”
You can take away my food. You can take away my bed, my home, but you cannot take away my relationship with Jesus.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 says this,
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
God promises us He will write His word on our hearts.
How else can we get His word than sitting at the feet of Jesus, His Son? Now sure we can’t sit physically at his feet today. But we can do things which will bring us closer to him in different ways.
We can read his teachings in the Bible. We can pick it up anytime we want. It’s even easier now because we can carry it with us wherever we go on our phones! God’s Word is always in reach. If we have a few quiet moments, or we are finding ourselves feeling a little down, we can pick up the Bible and read of Christ’s love for God’s children. When we read our Bibles, we are sitting at the feet of Jesus, taking in what he wants to teach us.
We can also pray. Prayer is a conversation with God. It’s a time when we seek God’s direction, it’s a time when we listen for God to speak to us. Prayer is sitting at the feet of Jesus.
These words we read from the Bible, our prayers, all these things bring us closer to our living God, our Father in heaven. And these quieter times allow us to sit at His feet and have Him write His law, His love, His Word on our hearts.
And they cannot be taken away from us.
In Hebrews 10, Paul paraphrases Jeremiah when he writes,
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,” (Hebrews 10:11-16)
A few weeks ago we looked at these words from Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:3, “… you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
Mary has chosen the better better part.
Sitting at the feet of Jesus, she is taking in every word he has to say. She is oblivious to the grumbling of Martha in the kitchen as she works alone to prepare a meal. She is sitting there letting Jesus write God’s words, his Father’s words, on her heart.
She isn’t thinking about what needs to be done. She doesn’t feel guilty about it. She’s just savouring the moment.
And Jesus commends her for it.
Sometimes we need to let go of what the world demands of us and just sit at the feet of Jesus so we can learn from him.
That’s what a life of faith is about. It’s learning from Jesus how to live. It’s trusting that in sitting at his feet, God is preparing our hearts to do His work.
And we are gaining something that can never be taken away.
Martha hasn’t done anything wrong. She is not being chastised by Jesus because she is working in the kitchen. What Jesus is doing is commending Mary for taking full advantage of the opportunity that is before her.
Martha is distracted. Her focus is elsewhere, on all the work she is doing to make sure Jesus has what he needs. In her distraction she has not seen the opportunity that is right in front of her.
Martha has the chance to learn from Jesus. And she is missing it.
She’s missing it because she is focusing on what the world expects her to focus on. As host, she is to be hospitable. There is nothing wrong with that, but what is she missing by choosing the worldly option first?
She is missing the chance to receive something that can never be taken from her.
Jesus is in her home.
People are pretty excited about this guy. You’ve heard some of his teachings before, you know his work. In fact, Martha will become his friend.
There was a lot of excitement in Halifax last week. If you watched social media you saw people tweeting pictures and telling stories of how they saw Sidney Crosby and the Stanley Cup as he brought it home to celebrate his team winning.
I saw stories of people dropping everything and going to where it was most recently rumoured Crosby was for a glimpse of this great hockey player and his latest hardware.
They didn’t want to miss this chance. A similar thing happened last summer when it was rumoured Crosby was at the Seaview Golf Course. People dropped everything and headed for the course hoping for a chance to see him in person.
No one wanted to miss this opportunity.
Would we know an opportunity to see Jesus if it presented itself?
Would we be willing to drop everything, like Mary did, and sit at the feet of the Son of God to receive a gift that cannot be taken away from us?
Mary and Martha. Two women with an opportunity. One chose to do what she was expected to do. Like any good host would do, go and prepare something nice, a feast, for the guests.
Mary chose another option.
She knew what an opportunity she had. She knew she had chance to hear some amazing words, some great teachings which no one else would be able to share with her. She knew this was a moment that could change her life and she took full advantage of it.
The world places great expectations on us. It tells us how we should live, how we should act, what we should do in any particular circumstance.
But a life of faith should look different.
It means the expectations of the world are not our top priority. It means that sometimes we need to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn what he has to say, instead of distracting us with many other things.
Remember what Jesus said when Martha complained,
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
There is need of only one thing.
And that’s Jesus.
He cannot be taken away from us.
Spend some time with him this week. Pick up your Bibles. Sit and pray with him. Listen to what he has to say to you.
He will speak to you. He really will. And as he speaks to you, know that he is writing his words on your heart.
On your heart!
There is need of only one thing.
Can you avoid the distractions? Can you focus on the one thing? Can you sit at the feet of Jesus and block out all the madness, all the busyness the world is throwing at you?
Jesus wants to spend time with you. He wants to speak to you. He wants you to sit and listen.
It’s the better part.
And it will not be taken from you.
Yes there are times when we need to be Martha’s. But it’s more important that we spend some time being like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, our Lord and our Saviour.
Don’t forget to be like Mary. It helps you be a better Martha.
And no one can ever take it away from you.
Amen and amen.